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S scale is 1:64th full size, or 3/16 inch to 1 foot and is the only modelling scale in the UK not to mix metric and imperial units of measurement. The standard track gauge is 0.884 inch and exact scale wheel profiles and track standards are used. S scale is 19% larger than 4mm scale, making it easier to see and incorporate more detail in models. However, being only approximately two-thirds the size of 7mm scale, there is not the same problem with layout size. For a comparison click here.S scale is 1:64th full size, or 3/16 inch to 1 foot and is the only modelling scale in the UK not to mix metric and imperial units of measurement. The standard track gauge is 0.884 inch and exact scale wheel profiles and track standards are used. S scale is 19% larger than 4mm scale, making it easier to see and incorporate more detail in models. However, being only approximately two-thirds the size of 7mm scale, there is not the same problem with layout size. For a comparison click here.


Midland Railway Spinner

The earliest known British model to 3/16 inch scale was constructed in 1896 by Edward Bowness, a fourteen year old boy. The Midland Railway 4-2-2, mainly made of card was built as an entry in a competition staged by the then new publication Model Engineer, and won the builder a prize. Bowness also built several other card models to the same scale at around the same period, including an L&Y 0-6-0 and a G.N.R. Stirling 2-2-2. The models were still extant around 1960, but their whereabouts are no longer known. Edward Bowness later went on to become maritime editor of Model Engineer and editor of Model Ships and Power Boats. According to an account written by Bowness in a 1950 Model Railway News, the choice of 3/16" scale for his models was one of expediency. He found that some newly introduced bifurcated rivets in his father's workshop had, when assembled the appearance of MR buffers, and the scale was derived from these.
Towards the end of the First World War a professional engineer, Charles Wynne, being dissatisfied with the current commercially produced models, decided to create an entirely new set of modelling standards to which to work. After experimenting with a variety of scales, he settled on 3/16" inch to 1 foot, testing out the practicality of the scale by means of card and wood models of an M.R. 2-4-0 and 0-6-4 'Flatiron' tank. The scale was, of course, just half of Gauge One's 3/8" inch to 1 foot. Wynne's first working model was of M.R. 4-4-0 No. 999, this being built in 1919 and still in existence. It features two-rail pick up and a tender-mounted, home-made motor. The wheels have cast white metal centres with brass-bushed hubs and light alloy rims. Midland Railway 999

Photo Phillip Eaton

Charles Wynne, went on to build other models to the same scale, which he advocated through the hobby press under the pen name Theta, and set out to build his models as accurately as possible. He set a standard for accuracy of a maximum deviation of a scale 1" from prototype dimensions, with wheels a scale 6ins wide and flanges a scale 2in deep and l" thick. Whilst No. 999 lacks the fine detail that we are accustomed to nowadays the model 'looks right', captures the prototype well, and belies its 80-odd years.

Despite Charles Wynne's advocacy for the scale, it was not taken up by the model trade; in fact it virtually slipped into obscurity for a number of years. However, around 1935 a number of letters appeared in the Model Railway News about the practicality of working to 'Half-One Gauge', with the correspondents variously supporting both 3/16 inch and 5mm scales. In 1937 a Halfone Model Company was formed by Arthur Peake, based in Manchester, and committed to drawing up standards for the scale, with an announcement the following year that the scale was to be introduced commercially.

In the April 1939 Model Railway News there appeared a photograph of Wynne's latest model (a Johnson 0-4-4 tank), whilst at about the same time a G.W.R. Dean Goods, complete with working valve gear, appeared on the Miller Swan stand at the Model Engineer exhibition. Strangely, at this period, William Stanier (Chief Mechanical Engineer of the L.M.S.) had models of his new locomotives built to 3/16" scale for display in his office. The outbreak of war, however, put an end to any commercial development of the scale.

Johnson 0-4-4T

The same period, though, did see some practical developments on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.  According to Louis Hertz, noted U. S. train collector and historian of the 40s and 50s, the first commercial 1:64 scale model in the United States was a cast metal hopper car produced by Donald M.Tiffany of Bayside, NY in 1936. In 1937 the Cleveland Model and Supply Co., who were manufacturers of wooden aeroplane kits, decided to enter the model railway market. Their scale chosen was 3/16" to one foot (75% of American O-gauge) on 7/8" track gauge, and was marketed as being the "100% American Scale" and known as 'C-D' gauge. They produced a series of scale drawings in1:64 scale and in 1938 a series of wood and diecast kits for locomotives, as well as wood and paper freight cars. According to the late Ed Pachasa, (aka Ed 'Packard'), former owner of Cleveland Models, the name, "CD Gauge" originated from the initials of "Cleveland Design".  The models used similar materials and constructional methods to their aircraft kits with the wood parts pre-printed in colour.  Cleveland Models continued to catalog their "C-D" line into the early fifties and, the only locomotives produced, a 4-6-0 and an 0-6-0, came with motors from the beginning. They were sold separately as either AC or DC so the modeler could run them on either power source. In effect they were un-powered, but the main driver axle was geared for either motor, (which was supplied with a worm gear).   At least one of these models with a DC motor still exists - as yet unbuilt.

A. C. Gilbert Co. purchased the Chicago firm American Flyer in 1936 but did not use the designation until 1946 when they introduced their two rail S Gauge line, most of which had been re-gauged from their "3/16ths - 0 Gauge" line, introduced in 1939 after most of the Standard and 0 Gauge inventory acquired from the Chicago company had been depleted. Gilbert continued "S" production until the company failed in 1968, whereupon the Lionel Corporation acquired the name, tooling and most of the remaining inventory. Hobby Surplus Sales bought much of the parts and unfinished inventory

The designation "S Gauge" originated at a National Model Railroad Convention held in the summer of 1943 where names of various gauges were officially adopted by a committee. Gauges in common use such as 0 (zero) became the letter O and half 0 became HO. It is interesting that "S Gauge" was almost adopted as "Half-1" but due to the repetition of S in the sixteenths and 'sixty-fourths',  "S" was adopted at that convention. Louis Hertz attended that convention and almost had the "Half-1" designation adopted, but other members elected the letter "S" over his objections. As the legend goes, it was hot and getting late and the committee wanted to hit the tavern for a cold beer so "S" it was and the meeting ended.  It is from the early American commercial adoption of the scale that derives the legend that 'S' is a wholly American scale!


Following the end of the war, Arthur Peake submitted his proposed 'Half-One' standards to the British Railway Modelling Standards Bureau for approval. The BRMSB decided that the scale should be 3/16", but there was disagreement over wheel standards and also the name of the scale because of the similarity between that proposed and the name of Peake's company. The wheel standards issue was investigated by the Leeds Model Company who undertook same practical tests, with Peake's proposals being vindicated whilst 'S' was suggested as the scale designation. However, the BRMSB never finally adopted or approved the wheel standards, with the matter being dismissed in 1951 on the basis that, since the NMRA published S-gauge standards, those could be used in the UK. LMS 3F tank by Halfone

HALFONE's "H1" Experimental loco based on the LMS 3F tank built in 1936. (Model Railway news March 1937 p69-70 and June 1937 p164) It was also tested with 0-8-0T and 0-6-2T chassis!

Eric Manning

Eric Manning at his workbench in the 1950s.

With the question of wheel standards unresolved, and even the actual scale still being debated, Eric Manning founded the "Half-One Model Railway Society" on 20th April 1946 with just two members - a figure that was to swell to thirteen by the September following publicity in Model Railway Constructor. In the early days members modelled to both 3/16" and 5mm scales and to a variety of wheel standards but in 1947, with the membership evenly split between the two, the Society decided the scale would be whichever was used by the next member to join! Thus it was that 3/16" to the foot came to be adopted in Britain, with a track gauge of 7/8". In 1952 the 'Half-One' designation was dropped in favour of "S-Gauge", with a further change to "S scale" in 1991 in recognition of the fact that members modelled a variety of gauges, albeit at a constant scale, with the name of the Society changing accordingly on both occasions.
Unlike the case in America, S scale never attracted any significant commercial support in Britain although a GWR type Prairie tank was made commercially in 1951 by Palitoy. This model was built to about 1:61 scale or very close to 5mm to 1 foot. There were no further commercial developments at the time and therefore, in the early days members were forced to plough their own furrow, assisted only by the limited range of parts produced by the Society. Because of this and the expertise that existed within the Society, a number of techniques were pioneered or became standard practice for the scale. Equalisation or compensation for locomotives and rolling stock have long featured in the scale, with the compensation of goods wagons existing from the earliest days. Unlike the now standard rocking W-iron method arrangement, also developed by the SSMRS, this was originally by means of a rocking solebar fitted to one side of the vehicle - an arrangement which many still feel gives a better ride quality to four-wheeled stock.

The Palitoy Prairie Tank. Photo Jas Millham

Before 1960, Stan Garlick, who later went on to be President of the Society, was using photo etching for the production of panelled sides for his award-winning L.N.W.R. coaching stock. The sides were simple one stage etchings which required the windows to be cut out by hand but were capable of 'home production' - the techniques being developed by Stan in conjunction with Bernard Wright, who also produced etched panelled LSWR stock for his Swanage layout. Two-rail, split frame/spilt axle pick-up has been widely used in S scale modelling from the 1950's following the example of Charles Wynne, with Alan Cruickshank, who succeeded Stan as president, was using can motors - usually ex-RAF - from about 1960. Alan was also an early user of coreless motors, of the Maxon variety, from the mid-1970s.
The 1950 Wimbledon M.R.C. exhibition saw the first S scale layout on public display - a model based on "Ilfracombe", built by Bernard Wright. Bernard later went on to build a model of Swanage in the late 1950's - the first S scale layout to be exhibited at the M.R.C. Easter Show and which was subsequently featured in Model Railways for November 1971. This was one of the earliest examples of a fully scenic layout with Bemard's artistic skills (he was the 'Baz' of the 'Bazzing Around' series in Model Railways in the late 1970's) deployed to the full. "Swanage", which featured selective compression, perspective modelling and 'scale' colour, was housed in a glass fronted case and following Bernard's death in 1993, was bequeathed to, and exhibited at, the National Railway Museum, York. This Layout was built to the original, coarse scale standards, as was the large home layout "Rudgeley Junction" built by Stan Garlick for his LNWR models and which was featured in MRJ No.89. Bernard Wright's locos 1957

Bernard Wright collection of Locos in about 1957. They are, from the back, classes:

                                          T1 0-4-4T         M7 0-4-4T and E1R 0-6-2T                   N 2-6-0                     "415" 4-4-2T
Lydham Heath station

Photo: Barry Norman

 The original track standards of the late 1940s were overtaken in 1965, when Ian Pusey developed the present exact scale standards for S scale wheels and track at around the same time as the comparable P4 standards were developed in 4mm scale. These standards have been used for more recent, well known layouts that have appeared in the model press or at exhibitions. In 1975 "Thame" appeared at the MRC exhibition; built by Leslie Bevis-Smith and a team from the SSMRS and MRC. The layout portrays an intermediate station on the GWR Oxford-Princes Risborough line, and was featured in the December/January 1978/9 issues of Model Railways. The G.E.R. in the Edwardian era was the setting for "Wicken" (MRJ no.10); a branch terminus layout by Trevor Nunn dating from 1975 while, at about the same time, came "Yaxbury" (MRJ Nos. 29, 47, 71, 115, 167, 183), a layout by Jas. Millham depicting the East Anglian scene in BR days and featuring both steam and diesel traction. Barry Norman, well known for his writings on scenery and layout design turned to S scale to create "Lydham Heath" (MRJ No.68) a rural outpost on the Bishops Castle Railway. In 1993 Trevor Nunn first exhibited "East Lynn", a replacement for Wicken, but still portraying the pre-grouping GER scene; and featured in MRJ No86, 108, 135-137, 171, 172. All these, of course, are standard gauge prototypes but a number of workers in S scale model narrow gauge, 5'-3" Irish standard gauge and 7'-0" broad gauge; "Tan-y-Grisiau", by Trevor Hughes (MRJ No.78), captures the Festiniog Railway in the Victorian era.
In recent years, the scale has had some support from the model trade. Notably Alan Gibson, Bill Bedford and Trevor Charlton and whilst there is nothing like the range of kits and bits that are such a feature of 4mm and 7mm scales basic items are available such as wheels, track and rolling stock components. The S Scale Model Railway Society has also developed a range of parts and kits using casting and etching techniques, which complement the items available from trade sources.

Whilst, compared to the mainstream scales, it may seem that not much is available for S scale, what is available can be supplemented by a number of items offered for the 4mm scale market which are, in fact, slightly over-scale. However, the situation means that models built in S scale have a high degree of individuality through being unique to their creator. The end result takes a little longer, but it is very satisfying with modellers freer to build the models they want and with no constraints as to the choice of prototype.

Whilst the oldest 'scale' society, in terms of membership the S Scale Model Railway Society is still the smallest. As it seems unlikely that there will ever be any significant commercial development of the scale, S scale will remain a 'niche' scale for the experienced modeller who wants the challenge of creating something a rather different.

Our S Scale friends across the Atlantic have their own story to tell which you can find at the NASG site.


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